Shawn Vaughan picked quite the time to enter the auto industry: August 2008. The U.S. auto industry was already in a steep dive. Weeks later, the collapse of Lehman Brothers would send the global economy into freefall.
Vaughan had just left a comfortable job as the creative director of a Louisiana advertising agency to return to his family's dealership as a sales manager at Toyota of Boerne (Texas).
"I didn't know any of the language," Vaughan recalled. "I couldn't do anything because we were in freefall. No one could help me because they were just worried about keeping the business afloat. It was really, really brutal."
But he fought his way through, beginning by making dozens of calls each day to every customer that had ever entered the dealership, hoping to bring as much business in as possible. He soon began moving up the company ladder, taking roles as F&I manager, used-car director, general sales manager, general manager and, as of last year, COO of the VBM Auto Group.
Vaughan said learning the ins and outs of the industry during its darkest days forced him to grow as a dealer.
"I never, ever, ever want to put myself or my family in that position again," he said. "I never feel content because [success] can easily be taken away."
As general manager of Toyota of Boerne, Vaughan has presided over an explosion in sales. Combined new- and used-vehicle sales surged from about 200-300 in December 2012 to more than 600 units in May. Net profit surged 75 percent in three years at the Toyota store. Vaughan turned around the company's Nissan store from a $250,000 loss to a net profit of $1.4 million in his second year of running it.
As COO of VBM, Vaughan oversees a growing automotive group. Two new locations will open soon, joining the group's Toyota and Nissan dealerships. He also was selected for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s Trailblazer group, tasked with looking at the future of auto retailing.
Vaughan said his advertising experience prepared him well. "I have a leg up on everybody else," he said. "I know exactly what I want to do. I have the confidence to know that when I place this media, it's going to pay off."
Moving forward, Vaughan said he wants to see the dealership group continue to expand. But most of all, he said he wants to give others the chance he had to rise through the ranks. And he's confident he can.
"We have a competitor who's moving close to us. We invited him in to see our facility and see our processes and I told them, "If you can duplicate what I do, then more power to you.' But I know they can't."